The Ultimate Guide to Miso Soup

The Ultimate Guide to Miso Soup
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    Miso soup has been an important dish within the daily lives of Japanese people for decades, with many people consuming miso soup at least once a day. Miso soup can be served as a side dish for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and is quite versatile as you can add different kinds of vegetables and miso paste to it to adjust the recipe according to your preferences. Read on to discover:

    • What exactly is miso soup? 
    • Where does miso soup come from?
    • What kind of miso is used in miso soup?
    • What does miso soup taste like?
    • Is miso soup healthy?
    • Is miso soup suitable for vegans?
    • Which brands of miso soup are best?
    A typical, traditional Japanese set meal with miso soup.

    What is miso soup?

    Miso Soup is made using miso paste made from fermented soybeans. It is popularly used in Japanese cuisine and can be found on menus everywhere from sushi restaurants to grocery stores. It's usually mixed with dashi, vegetables, tofu cubes, and sometimes noodles or meat to give it more flavor or texture. Miso soup is typically served hot with accompanying rice or noodle dishes to provide more sustenance. A classic miso soup recipe includes miso, dashi stock, wakame seaweed, tofu, and green onion. 

    Where does miso soup come from? A brief history of miso soup.

    Miso paste has been used in Japanese cuisine for hundreds of years and is a popular ingredient in many dishes, from marinades to sauces and broths. According to the Marukome corporation, one of Japan’s leading miso producers, miso was most likely first introduced to Japan via China during the 7th century.

    During Japan’s Heian period (794-1185), miso was considered a luxury item among the elite and was not used as an ingredient in soup as it is today. Instead, miso paste was spread directly on food and eaten.

    Miso soup first evolved in Japan during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), when Buddhist monks ground miso using mortars into soup. The emergence of this soup is said to have formed the everyday menu of samurai warriors during that period that consisted of soup, a main dish, staple, and pickles, which is still considered a balanced meal in Japan today.

    In the centuries that followed, as the production of soybeans increased in Japan, farmers began making their own miso and it became more accessible to the greater public instead of just the elite. By the time of Japan’s Edo period (1603-1868), miso had become so popular that miso shops flourished in Tokyo, restaurants began using miso in their dishes, and miso soup was now consumed by the wider population.

    A brief history of miso soup – case of Edo period

    What kind of miso is used for miso soup?

    Miso paste comes in different varieties and categories depending on where you purchase it, and several of these are suitable for use in miso soup. Simple categorization separates miso paste according to its color: red miso, white miso, and yellow miso. Here is a brief explanation of each color miso and how it is used:

    • Red misoknown as aka miso in Japanese, red miso paste is fermented for longer than white and yellow miso, giving it a more intense flavor. It also has a higher percentage of soybeans than the other kinds of miso. Red miso is often used to make miso soup, especially in Japanese restaurants, and gives a richer flavor than white miso.
    • White miso – for a milder, sweeter flavor, try using white miso in your miso soup. Known as shiro miso in Japanese, this kind of miso is fermented for the shortest amount of time, usually no longer than three months. If you are new to miso, then white miso is a good introduction to miso paste before going on to try other more intense types.
    • Yellow miso – known as shinshu miso in Japanese, yellow miso ranges in color from yellow to light brown, and is fermented slightly longer than white miso, usually up to one year maximum. It can also be used in miso soup and has a slighter sweeter taste than red miso.

    As well as color, miso can also be classified according to the material it is made from. The three main types of miso are rice miso, barley miso, and soy miso as well as a blended miso paste which is a combination of all three types.

    Brief classification of miso paste – red, white, and yellow

    What does miso soup taste like?

    Miso soup has a savory flavor with a hint of saltiness. The strength of the soup mainly depends on the amount of salt used in the miso paste and the type of miso used. Another factor that affects the taste is the amount of koji used. The higher the amount of koji, the sweeter the miso will taste.

    What does miso soup taste like?

    Is miso soup healthy?

    There are several health benefits to consuming miso soup. Firstly, miso is good for gut health as it contains probiotics. Miso is also full of antioxidants and is said to reduce the risk of breast cancer, support brain health, and enhance the immune system.

    If you are trying to lose weight, miso soup is low in calories, full of nutrients, and can therefore be consumed regularly as part of a well-balanced diet.

    Is miso soup vegan?

    If you eat miso soup at a restaurant in Japan it will not usually be vegan-friendly. This is because the ingredients include dashi stock which is made from fish. However, if you are making miso soup at home you can use kombu dashi made from seaweed to create a vegan-friendly version.

    Best instant miso soup brands

    If you don’t have time to make your own miso soup from scratch, try these instant soups instead:

    Marukome Instant Miso Soup

    Marukome is one of Japan’s leading miso producers and has a long history in Japan, having started more than 160 years ago. A specialist in miso paste, they also produce a wide range of instant miso soups available to purchase, with flavors ranging from classic wakame and tofu, to nori seaweed, and there are also vegetarian versions available. Marukome also produces several freeze-dried instant miso soups, available to purchase in packets and cups similar to instant cup noodles.

    Nagatanien Instant Miso Soup

    Nagatanien is a Japanese food manufacturer who specialize in producing seasonings, instant premixed food, and instant miso soup. They have been producing high-quality instant miso soup since the 1970s, carefully selecting each ingredient with the aim of creating a freeze-dried soup that tastes as good as a homemade version. Their range of instant miso soups can be made just using hot water and flavors include red miso soup, blended miso soup, and white miso soup. They also sell ready-made packets of miso soup ingredients for you to make at home which include dried seaweed, tofu, and green onion.

    Amano Foods Miso Soup

    Amano Foods produces a wide range of freeze-dried products, including miso soup. They have a huge range of instant miso soup products available to purchase, with different flavors including eggplant, spinach, and Chinese cabbage. They also sell variety packs of miso soup that feature assorted flavors in boxes of eight or ten servings. In addition to their regular miso soup, Amano Foods also produce a low-salt version of their miso soup product, and a luxury range which includes more expensive ingredients like stir-fried vegetables, clams, and crab.


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